In the early mornings as I study the Word and worship, the Lord gently reveals places in my heart that are still broken; places that need healing that only He can give. I journal them through quiet tears in an exercise of placing Brown Paper Packages (older post) all wrapped in string at His beautiful feet.
Once everything is journaled out, I am released to go about my day accomplishing the things I have the grace to do while continuing to worship with IHOP. There were many months where the devastation of my heart was so wide and so deep that I spent whole days journaling and searching the Word for comfort, understanding and healing. Not journaling meant leaving all those anguishes circling in my head like buzzards picking away at my brain and heart.
When I am in the solitude and privacy of my car, the true intensity of my suffering often shows itself. At home, I am rarely alone and even the brick walls are too thin for the piercing cries of my heart. There are times when I am afraid to be alone in my car because I know somewhere deep inside that the pain is going to be overwhelming. There have been times when I thought I was okay, focused on things ahead, and once down the road in my car the grief has jumped out in ambush.
Driving alone to church has been especially difficult. There is the dreadful desolation of my heart lurking; waiting in the car for me, and then the “How are you?” greetings once I am there. It’s crazy how a casual greeting can pierce a grieving heart. How do you answer a casual, “How are you?” in the normal 5 second allowance with red swollen eyes after just having an emotional meltdown in the car? “Trying to hold it together long enough to get through the service. Thank you?” When another grieving parent asks, it’s different because they understand that “Okay” means “Not falling apart at the moment.”
It has been important for me to not to pretend that I am something I am not. When you are grieving, you feel a million emotions at once and not one of them is “Fine.” My desire has been to communicate honestly so that when others suffer they know that I can relate and I am willing to love them through it. How can we help heal each other when concealing our suffering?
There were a few times when I was putting so much effort into just attending a service that I was caught off guard by the casual greetings. I would find myself trying to self evaluate and come up with an honest answer, my 5 seconds way past up, and think, “I was doing better before asked.” Just recently, there was a day when it was all I could do to smile and nod. It was awkward, but opening my mouth would have opened the floodgate of sobs. Once someone greeted me with, “It’s so good to see you.” and I thought, “Really?” and so wanted to just melt into their arms.
What does “Fine” mean anyway? When anyone asked before losing Joel, I would mentally think through each of my four kids… if they were all healthy and doing okay, I was actually “Good.” It didn’t matter that I’d lost my breasts to cancer and was still dealing with residual pain, or that I was having another allergic reaction to some unknown something, or that I was in that wonderful time of life where pre-menopause and PMS meet. I was “Good” as long as my four were good. Now I get halfway through my list and one is dead (has moved to Heaven). I don’t even know how to evaluate any more.
At one point, I wished I could just hand out a picture of what my heart looked like in answer to the casual greetings and actually googled “broken heart.” To my dismay, I basically found pictures that look like this:
Is that what most people think a broken heart looks like?!
It doesn’t even begin to describe the brokenness of my heart. Torn paper doesn’t express the shatteredness; the shards of what was left of my heart with their sharp, painful edges; the muck and the mire of it; the literal breaking we felt in our hearts wave after wave.
He shot his arrows deep into my heart.
The thought of my suffering and
hopelessness is bitter beyond words.
I have had to learn a whole new set of terminology in order to describe the state my own heart.
1. a stretch of swampy or boggy ground.
soft and slushy mud or dirt.
synonyms: mud, slime, dirt, filth, muck
2. a situation or state of difficulty, distress, or embarrassment from which it is hard to extricate oneself.
When we first lost Joel, Mike asked me how my hope was? I answered, “What hope?” I didn’t even know what the word meant anymore. At that point, I was still holding on to the fact that God loved me and thankfulness was pouring out of my heart. I was thankful that Joel was the only one that died at the birthday party. Josh had been shot at 4-5 times with only a scratch. Judi had been invited but decided not to go. I could have easily lost all three that night. Hope had been deferred till Heaven and my heart was close to death (Proverbs 13:12). Along the way, questions about “Love always protects… Love never fails” from 1 Corinthians 13 found their way into my heart; akin to the devil’s “Is God really good?” questions in the garden. I am sure.
Thoughts like: “This was not loving. This was not protecting. How can God be love and allow things like this?” were my constant companions. The pain of my own inability to protect Joel was deafening. My heart was so, so broken it could no longer produce even it’s essence; the thankfulness which had been it’s fragrance when first broken. I so wanted to “give thanks in everything,” but how can you squeeze thanksgiving out of a heart that no longer feels loved? How can you feel loved when you feel so unprotected?
My heart before was filled with the fragrant joy I found in Him:
“Life is good! God loves me! God has good plans for our lives. I have a hope and a future. I am so thankful!”
My heart after:
“Life is hard; crushing; unbearable! This does not feel like love. ‘Hope,”good,’ and ‘plan’ are all four letter words tearing into my heart. My only hope for a future is in Heaven. Why am I still here?”
From my journal on February 6th, 2014:
“I am in a very dark place near where Joel died. Part of who I’ve been.. part of what I have believed.. part of what keeps me from remembering and believing this awful truth is also part of the reason Joel lost his life. I trusted God implicitly with the lives of my family. My whole life was a prayer of faith and trust and intercession for my husband and kids. I basked in God’s love for me; lived a life of thanksgiving and praise and adoration for all He had given me and I taught my kids to live a life trusting that God in His goodness would lead and direct their paths and show them what to do and give them a good, abundant, long, meaningful life.
They believed me. Joel believed me. They believed God. Joel believed God. He trusted God. He lived a life listening to and submitted to the Spirit. When the young man came to the birthday party with a mask and an AK47 and shot at everyone at the party, Joel didn’t run because he wasn’t afraid.. because he was so full of God’s love for him that he didn’t believe that someone could be so hateful and irreverent of life. He thought the shooter was playing a practical joke that he wasn’t using real bullets. He didn’t run even just in case.. he believed implicitly.
The truth that I believed and trusted and taught.. that Joel believed and trusted and died is too unbelievable.. too horrible to believe.”
I still wonder if I had taught Joel to be more cunning and less trusting …if it would have saved his life. We don’t know if there was a moment before he moved towards the shooter that he realized that he was using real bullets and had to be stopped.
God’s way is perfect.
All the Lord’s promises prove true.
He is a shield for all who look to him for protection. 2 Samuel 22:3
The one good that I have hoped would come out of my suffering was that I could be honest about my struggles and learn how to offer comfort and encouragement to others who are going through hard things. I wanted to learn how to persevere and have hope, peace and joy while going though trials …how to love and feel loved in the midst of suffering. And I was failing miserably on the feeling loved part.
O thou who dry’st the mourner’s tear,
How dark this world would be,
If, when deceived and wounded here,
We could not fly to Thee!
The friends, who in our sunshine live,
When winter comes are flown’
And he who has but tears to give
Must weep those tears alone.
But Thou wilt heal that broken heart,
Which, like the plants that throw
Their fragrance from the wounded part,
Breathes sweetness out of woe.
When joy no longer soothes or cheers,
And e’en the hope that threw
A moment’s sparkle o’er our tears
Is dimmed and vanished too;
Oh! who would bear life’s stormy doom,
Did not thy wing of love
Come, brightly wafting through the gloom
Our peace-branch from above?
Then sorrow, touched by Thee, grows bright
With more than rapture’s ray’
As darkness shows us worlds of light
We never saw by day!
~ Thomas Moore, 1779-1852
We learned to transfer our hope from this world to the next and choose “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.” Job 13:15. Our choices were to choose to be content and trust Him where we are, or choose a very dark place of not trusting. Choosing to trust, to believe we are loved when it doesn’t feel like love, and to keep an eternal perspective, has been our battle… And I believe it is the battle we all face in this world.
We have to choose to believe:
Our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. …We hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance. Romans 8:18, 25
The constant cry of my heart has been that God would be my Good Samaritan, bind up my wounds and pour in the oil of His Holy Spirit into the broken places in my heart.
The Lord gives healing to the brokenhearted and binds up their griefs. Psalm 147:3
In the midst of my brokenness, God has continually reminded me that He is a wounded healer, that He understands our pain and suffering, and that our suffering is not ours alone but apart of the fellowship of His. It so encourages me that when Jesus faced His time of suffering that He said things like, ”My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death.” and “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me.” And that the one who said, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father.” also said, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
The LORD is close to the brokenhearted; He rescues those whose spirits are crushed. Psalm 34:18
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet he did not sin. Hebrews 4:15
He will give a crown of beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of His splendor. Isaiah 61:3
It took REALLY long time before I started feeling like God was healing me. I have so much more healing to go, but I am encouraged by even the smallest progress worked in me and thankful that He is walking with me through my hard days.
Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. Philippians 1:6
I’ve learned that it is really important to stay “rooted and grounded” in God’s love; feel it or not, to keep an eternal perspective, and to hold the Word up to the devil’s, “Is God really good?” questions because:
Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely. 1 Corinthians 13:12
I pray that from His glorious, unlimited resources He will empower you with inner strength through His Spirit. Then Christ will make His home in your hearts as you trust in Him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep His love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. Ephesians 3:16-19
So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in Him, rooted and built up in Him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. Colossians 2:6-7
Still “Finding Joy in Him” (Really.),